It seems we now live in a world where everyone is free to snoop on everyone else to their heart’s content.
If you connect your computer to the Internet, like billions of people, then you can’t expect any privacy. Or so says a judge in Virginia.
A federal judge for the Eastern District of Virginia has ruled that the user of any computer connected to the Internet should not have an expectation of privacy because computer security is ineffectual at stopping hackers.
So, does that mean we can’t expect privacy in our own homes because burglars can get in if they really try? If so, surely we may just as well just leave our front doors wide open?
FBI didn’t need a warrant
This court ruling goes back to Playpen, the child porn site that the FBI operated for two weeks in 2015 as a honeytrap.
We reported in May that, during that time, the agency used a so-called “network investigative technique” (NIT) to identify the website’s users.
Computers visiting the site were unwittingly infected with code that could reveal their IP address, defeating anonymity afforded by Tor. (Users and sites on the Tor network hide their IP addresses from each other to help maintain anonymity.)
Senior U.S. District Judge Henry Coke Morgan Jr. upheld the use of a single warrant for the FBI’s mass hacking. He even stated that the FBI’s original warrant was unnecessary because of the type of crime being investigated:
The court finds that any such subjective expectation of privacy—if one even existed in this case—is not objectively reasonable.
Behind closed doors
However, while the FBI is focused on establishing the IP addresses of child porn users, another interesting court case could scupper the FBI’s efforts completely.
Gizmodo reports on the story of Thomas Gonzales, who was accused of illegally downloading Adam Sandler’s film “The Cobbler” from a shared computer. Oregon District Court Magistrate Judge Stacie Beckerman argued that you can’t hold someone accountable for copyright infringement unless you can prove they actually did it, ruling:
IP-addresses aren’t enough to prove that Gonzales was directly involved with copyright infringement.
While the precedents in these cases could affect us all, it’s actually really hard to determine where we stand.
Looks like the FBI may have to wait until we’re all signing in with biometrics before they can prosecute anyone for online child abuse… but even that might not be enough.